A Loving Tribute to Randy, by Melany Baldwin
On June 16, 2015, I lost my only son, Randy Scott Sloan, to mesothelioma—a rare and aggressive type of lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. His 28-year life was cut short—only two months after learning of his illness.
As his Mom, it’s been the most painful time in life—knowing your child is terminally ill, yet having no power to alter the course of events. Offering to trade places deep in the night, hoping some magic barter would come; then waking and realizing it wasn’t a dream—it isn’t supposed to happen this way, your child dying before you do.
To most people who crossed his path, Randy appeared to be an ordinary guy in an ordinary, yet cool, occupation—a tattoo-covered motorcycle tech in his dark blue work shirt. Creating and repairing bikes from his stickered toolbox at Scuderia, in the heart of the Mission in San Francisco, was his world. Like many, Randy resided with two roommates so he could afford to work in San Francisco and live there too. Imagine also Randy’s beloved husky, Desmo, and his vintage Vespa and his Triumph motorcycles, and suddenly his carefree life in “the best city in the world” comes into view. He personified the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “A Simple Kind of Man.”
Randy never shared that he had a genius-level IQ. He had the brainpower to do anything he wanted, but he would simply say, “I was put here to fix problems; I just want to help people.” He chose to live his own way.
More than two years ago, I got a call from Randy, in happy tears, describing that he’d just experienced the most meaningful moment of his life. He told me of a guy, BJ Miller—a triple amputee—who’d just taken delivery of a motorcycle Randy built for him. BJ, who found Randy (and Scuderia) after being rejected by many other cycle shops because of his prostheses, asked Randy to fulfill his dream of riding a motorcycle. Without hesitation, my son replied, “Sure, I can do that,” although he’d never undertaken a project like it. A difficult six-month build ensued that included instrumentation channeled through a single hand throttle and arm & leg prosthesis modifications. Randy created a dream bike with his mechanical artistry.
When completed, Randy was thrilled. “BJ hopped on the bike, smiled a huge smile, and, with tears running down his face, just took off! Mom…that guy’s a legend.” I’d only heard Randy use that term a few times. He reserved it for the most respected and admired people in his life. We later learned that although BJ had experienced a life-altering accident in his youth, he went on to medical schools at UCSF and Harvard. He wanted to help people live fully to the end of their lives, serving as the Executive Director of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. Randy was right.
Because of his open, caring nature, Randy had deep and wide, long-term friendships. He was loyal to a fault. He was kind. He took everyone he met at face-value. He never judged and always sought to understand their point-of-view. “I love everybody I’ve ever met,” he said. And he was loved back.
Many people have reached out to ask, “What happened”?
When Randy first began feeling ill, he noticed he couldn’t walk Desmo up the steep hills in his neighborhood. He was short of breath. We went to an acute care clinic and were told he had a collapsed lung and needed to go to the hospital right away. He went, and two days later, he had major surgery for what was believed to be pneumonia gone astray. Shockingly, halfway through the procedure, the surgeon came out grief-stricken; Randy had some type of cancer that covered his lung, diaphragm and heart. Our lives changed forever in that split second of time between not knowing and knowing.
Randy would have to recover from this major surgery to be told he had a terminal illness: mesothelioma—a diagnosis unheard of in such a young man—with an even rarer brain metastasis. He had to make a decision about beginning whole brain radiation treatment immediately. Or do nothing. So Randy chose to “take a day off.” When faced with a dilemma or a decision he wasn’t ready to make, he would simply not do anything about it that day. Given overnight to consider it, he would then embrace his decision and never look back.
During the eight weeks of his illness, he did this three times. He did this first with the whole brain radiation decision before deciding to move forward. He did this a second time when he learned his cancer was creating heart failure, and he had to decide whether to continue treatment for quantity of life or discontinue treatment for quality of life. He “took a day off” and decided to discontinue cancer treatment.
As his illness progressed over the next week, he chose to move in at Zen Hospice Project’s Guest House under the compassionate care of Dr. BJ Miller—the same person whose dreams had come true when Randy built his bike two years prior. When we arrived, Randy wasn’t quite prepared to be the youngest resident at the Guest House. He took his last “day off” to prepare himself. BJ and the staff at Zen Hospice Project made a promise to Randy and fulfilled it: that he could die on his own terms, living however he chose for whatever time he had left on earth.
Just two days before he passed away, Randy chose to go sailing with his dearest friends to Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. Then, on a bright sunny day, in the shadow of the Golden Gate, with love all around him, Randy took his final journey.
Throughout this heartbreak, many blessings were also bestowed upon us. He was unaware of his illness until a few weeks before he passed. He was free to live large as long as possible. He was the recipient of many selfless acts of kindness from his medical team, nurses, and friends. He lived authentically and deserved the respect he quietly earned every day.
Then, in true Randy Sloan style, he donated his body to UCSF for medical research in order to help other victims of mesothelioma into the future.
Randy, you are the legend, forever young in our hearts.
Melany Baldwin is Randy Sloan’s mother. She is now living outside of Chicago, IL.